Stan Voit: Fond farewell to Annette and Roger Ebert

Apr. 15, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

Almost every weekday afternoon in the mid-1950s, when my father would come home from his store, he’d find me in front of the television watching “The Mickey Mouse Club.” The same was true in the houses of my friends as well, at least the ones who had TVs. In the mid-1950s television sets were not everywhere yet.

I loved everything about the Mickey Mouse Club. I liked the singing and dancing, the serials like “Spin and Marty” and the lessons taught at the end of the show by the host, Jimmie Dodd. I probably had the ears as well, but don’t remember.

I thought about the show last week when news came of the death of Annette Funicello, one of the original Mouseketeers. It was the second recent death of a national figure that affected me. Earlier I was moved by the passing of my favorite movie critic, Roger Ebert.

I never attended a movie without reading Ebert’s review of it. If he hated it, I wouldn’t go. If he were ambivalent, I might. If he loved it and it wasn’t a foreign film, I usually went. It was rare that I disagreed with his assessment.

First, Annette.

If you are my age and remember the original telecasts of “The Mickey Mouse Club,” you know how endearing the show was and how loyal the following. We all had our favorite Mouseketeers, but the guys I was friends with all loved Annette. In all of the tributes to her that came after her death, few if any made mention of what kids of the 1950s liked best about her: She was the first teenage girl we remember on TV who had breasts.

Sorry if that offends you, but it’s the truth. Annette was well-endowed, at least by 1950s TV standards, and we little ones picked right up on it. I’d be surprised if the show’s producers were unaware of it. I’ll bet that, in a subtle way, they took advantage of Annette’s figure to, well, keep interest among the boys.

I still know the words to the club’s song sung at the end of every show. I remember Talent Roundup Day and Anything Goes Day and Mickey’s last words before the closing credits. You’d think the Disney Channel might rerun from time to time, even though the shows were all in black and white, but they never do. Too bad.

Like so many moviegoers, I discovered Roger Ebert when he and Gene Siskel began their TV review show in the 1970s on PBS. I loved their back and forth, their insight and, particularly, their love of movies. These guys could disagree in the strongest terms, but they loved films.

Ebert carried on after Siskel died in 1999, and when cancer took away Ebert’s ability to speak, he took to the Internet with a website and blog devoted to films and his views on politics, society, religion and growing up in Chicago. I looked forward to Thursdays when his new reviews would appear so I could see what he thought of movies I was thinking about going to see.

Film critics are becoming rare, as newspapers cut those positions in difficult times. People still review movies, but few do it like Ebert, with cultural references and reminders of how certain scenes evoked images of classic scenes in earlier films.

Ebert did a scene-by-scene review of “Citizen Kane.” Remarkable. I cannot see that movie without finding something new to marvel at, thanks to Roger Ebert.

I’ll miss Annette Funicello and Roger Ebert, for different reasons of course. Each made an impression on a generation. Each loved what he did. Each was hit with devastating illness (she had MS).

They were a part of me and, I suspect, a part of everyone. I’m glad about that.

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to svoit@themountainpress.com. Twitter: @stanvoit.